Monday, January 14, 2008

The Lives of Others

The Sound of Eaves-dropping and Walls Falling

"The Lives of Others" won the Best Foreign Film Oscar over such worthy contenders as "After the Wedding" and "Pan's Labyrinth," so I wanted to see what won out and why. It's the story of an operative in the East German Secret Police who is presented to us as an extremely cold, but very competent interrogator who will over the course of an intense hours-long questioning extract information from "enemies of the state" psychologically. He is approached by the authorities to spy on a playwright who is supposedly sympathetic to the state, and his mistress, who has attracted the attention of a bureaucrat high up in the ministry. The op, named Wiesler (or HGW XX/7) sets up an elaborate net of microphones in the playwright's apartment and begins a 24-hour monitoring for anything that might discredit him. To reveal anything more would be to give away too much information. Suffice it to say that the mission takes an unexpected turn, and in the end everyone is compromised until finally the Wall comes tumbling down and the story becomes something of its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Good enough (though not as good as Coppola's "The Conversation"), but "The Lives of Others" does a poor job of pinning down who feels what and when. I couldn't help thinking couldn't be the first scenario of its kind that would lead to similar consequences. But one shouldn't quibble, I guess, when the script is so literate and the performances so subtle that one has to study every line in every actor's face. So, it's a good film. though a flawed one, and for that, I'd rather have seen "Pan's Labyrinth" win.

"The Lives of Others" is a matinee ticket.

No comments: